‘Heaven & Earth’, the twenty first studio album from Yes, seemed to spend most of its natural life lurking under a cloud of negativity. The last recording to feature founding member Chris Squire and the first to feature vocalist Jon Davison, it was criticised for “not being proggy enough”, “sounding like a lightweight Yes tribute band” and worse. None of the criticism was especially warranted. ‘Heaven & Earth’ featured some lovely sounds; tunes that featured lots of Yes hallmarks blending with a few poppy flourishes to create an almost spiritual and reflective piece.
Billy Sherwood is no stranger to an all star compilation. Over the years, he’s helped mastermind tributes to all manner of artists, often with mixed results. His 2019 project ‘A Prog Rock Christmas’ can seem as scattershot as many of those previous all star affairs, but by bringing together various prog legends to put their own stamp on a few familiar yuletide ditties, there are a several things to enjoy along the way, ranging from the traditional to the bespoke.
Fifty years is a long time for anything. It seems an especially long time for a band to exist…and particularly one that always set out to push boundaries and create music that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the pop music buying masses. …And yet, here we are: prog rock legends Yes celebrated their half century in 2018. Granted, they’ve had an ever evolving, less than stable line up – no fewer than nineteen members have passed through the official ranks of Yes since their inception in 1968, and at the end of 2018, none of the band members are the true founders – but there is still a Yes. Detractors be damned.
Masterminded by Dave Kerzner, ‘Yesterday And Today’ is an all-star tribute that celebrates all line-ups and all eras of a great band, featuring a few very familiar faces, some of whom have been brave enough to tackle a couple of deeper cuts from the Yes catalogue.
In 2015, multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood found himself ahead of a rather daunting task. He was hand picked by his close friend, Mr. Chris Squire, to be the bass man for progressive rock legends Yes, after Squire – founder member and only constant – discovered his ongoing fight against leukemia would soon be lost. It was obviously a job he’d would rather not have, but given the circumstances, he was the most obvious and sympathetic choice. In many ways, the only choice. Sherwood’s links with Yes go back a long way, of course: he’d previously been involved with the band in an on/off role since the turn of the 90s, if anyone could fill the void and at least have half a chance of fan acceptance, it would be Billy Sherwood. Looking back even farther, Sherwood’s own music with Lodgic and World Trade had showed parallels with the more commercial sounds of Yes. The 1989 World Trade debut, especially, often sounded like the album Yes might have unleashed after ‘Big Generator’ had they continued along the shiny, techy, AOR-prog path.
The first Yes studio album in a decade – 2011’s ‘Fly From Here’ – came under fire from various quarters. Since the core of the material first took shape in the early 80s, some (unfairly) lambasted the release for scraping the barrel for ideas, while others were less specific, wheeling out their beliefs that “no Jon Anderson = No Yes”. Neither short-sighted opinion held much water, since the album featured some of the best material the band had committed to record since the mid 90s, possibly even before. Benoit David did a great job vocalising both the new material and those ideas laid down by Trevor Horn and band some decades previously; Steve Howe sounded very comfortable in his role as guitarist – happy not to overplay his role (as he perhaps had done on some other Yes work) – while bandleader Chris Squire’s bass work appeared impeccable throughout. As with the often maligned ‘Drama’ of 1980 and the pop-oriented ‘90125’ from 1983, this more than showed that whatever the incarnation, there can be enjoyable results.